Lethem resident granted lease approval after two years wait -As GLSC conducts first outreach in Region Nine to address land issues

Lethem, Guyana – (November 11, 2017) As the Government of Guyana continues its drive to ensure that sustainable, family oriented communities are created across Guyana, the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GLSC), surprised Mr. Edward DaSilva, a resident of the town of Lethem with the approval letter for his lease after a wait of over two years. The letter was presented to Mr. DaSilva on friday at the first Public Meeting hosted at the Amerindian Hostel’s Auditorium by the GLSC in the Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo (Region Nine) to address land and title issues.

Commissioner of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission, Mr. Trevor Benn (centre) and staff of the Commission with Councillors of the Lethem Mayor and Town Council during their meeting.

During the meeting, Commissioner of the GLSC, Mr. Trevor Benn, said that since he took office in 2015, his office was inundated with calls and letters from Mr. DaSilva, who was trying to secure the approval for a lease. As he prepared to travel to Lethem, Mr. Benn said that the approval was granted and as such, the Commission thought about surprising Mr. DaSilva. “Your wait is finally over. Thank you for your patience and I apologise for the delay,” the Commissioner said as he handed over the letter.

Mr. DaSilva, in an invited comment, said that he is grateful for the gesture. More importantly though, he said that he is happy that the Commission has taken the step to reach out to residents and listen to their concerns.

“I feel very good. I put in the application since 2015 and I am very happy to receive this confirmation. I am very, very happy. This outreach has been well organised and people have left satisfied. I agree that in the past there were many errors made which complicated the issue of lands in this country and there is a lot of work to be done but I am happy to see this today,” he said.

Meanwhile, in addressing the residents who gathered at the public meeting, Commissioner Benn said that the team is in the region to hear first-hand from the residents, what their issues are and how it can be addressed in the fastest possible way.

Mr. Edward DaSilva receives his letter of approval from Mr. Trevor Benn.

“I am here to listen to your issues because we know you have issues that we need to resolve. We want to know how they impact you so that we can address them. Land is our national patrimony and it has to be used and given out judiciously. It cannot be a free for all. We want to make sure that you put it to productive use,” he said.

With one of the major issues being the period of time it takes to process applications for lands, Mr. Benn acknowledged that the GLSC has been lacking in that regard but he said that this will be addressed in the coming months as he envisions a Commission where applications can be processed within three months. “We acknowledge that the process takes too long and that has to change. My wish is that once you apply it should not take more than three months but you must appreciate that we have limited financing and we cannot do everything at once. They are many issues we are faced with that prohibits us from operating at maximum but we are trying to change the way things work. We are putting in systems and changing the way staff work. So we are working to ensure that we can deliver. We are not a perfect organisation. We have problems and we acknowledge those problems. I inherited many of them and some are continuing but as we find them, we are taking steps to correct them and we will try our best to ensure that we address your issues,” he said.

During the meeting, concerns were raised by some residents that despite having their leases and approvals from the GLSC, the Mayor and Town Council, for whatever reason, has been prohibiting them from utilising their spaces. In many instances, denial of approval by the Mayor and Town Council has prevented them from building.

In this regard, Mr. Benn urged the Town Council to be servants of the people and not masters as he noted than once their leases are valid and signed off, they have an entitlement to enjoy their lands.

“The Constitution must be upheld at every point. We cannot ask people to uphold the law and we don’t do the same thing. Once they have their leases, then there is no reason that they cannot enjoy their land. If you have issues with the area for which the lease was issued then the way to go is dialogue and once you come to an agreement then the Commission would be more than happy to facilitate relocation but you have to speak to the people,” he told regional officials.

Ms. Mary Bernard, who attended the public meeting, in an invited comment, said she has had land issues dating back to 1992. However, she noted that with the visit by the Commissioner and team from the GLSC, she has no doubt that her issues will be addressed.

“Well I am very happy to be here today at this meeting and to be able to meet with the Commissioner. From what he has said and the assurance that he has given to us, I feel relieved and I know he will assist and help to resolve the issues as best as he could. I am really thankful for this outreach and him coming here to meet us,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Commissioner and his team also met with the Town Council and the Regional Chairman, Mr. Brian Allicock, who expressed their appreciation for the team’s presence in the region. Mr. Allicock said that there are many disputes and unresolved issues in the area since majority of the lands are State lands and residents as well as regional officials welcome the team’s visit.

“Land is never ending issue and there are many issues here in this region so I am happy that you have made it your duty to visit this region. I know that your Commission is trying its best and I also know that it is not a simple task but we are happy to have you here,” the Regional Chairman said.

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